This was a horribly difficult and delicious job this year as there have been so many fantastic experiences for both mainstream and independent audiences in every genre you can possibly imagine. Some of the movies you might find noticeable by their absence will have been included in last years’ list and there are a couple that I still want to see that I haven’t been able to as yet, so can’t consider them, but anyway, onto those that I feel have been outstanding contributions to cinema this year. I’m sure you have your own favourites, so let me know on here or Facebook, or Twitter if you agree.
It is testament to the work of James Gunn, both in direction and scripting here, that he turned what was, for many, nothing more than yet another Marvel super-hero cash cow in waiting that few knew much about, into something that not only won over the critics despite originating from the Marvel universe, but actually ended up being hailed as possibly the best work the studio had delivered so far, even with the likes of The Winter Soldier, Avengers Assemble and Iron Man all jockeying for the honour. Dubbed in early reviews as “Star Wars for a new generation”, its arrival was seemingly effortlessly cool, razor-sharp and possible the second funniest film of the year. Introducing most of us fir the first time to characters like Starlord, Rocket and of course, Groot, this may well be heralded as the stand out blockbuster of the year. All this and badass, take no prisoners soundtrack.
8. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Dir, Wes Anderson)
Personally, it can best said that I am far from a devotee of Wes Anderson’s work in general and have often said as much, but this year saw the release of what I can consider to be his finest work yet and certainly one of the best releases of this year. With a host recognisable faces placed delicately in Anderson’s very peculiar and unique vision, awash with a palette unlike many other auteurs in his peer group, this comes as close to actual art in its purest form, yet still manages to delight as much for its effervescent storytelling and acting performances as its undeniably beautiful imagery.
7. The Book Thief (Dir, Brian Percival)
Just sneaking into this years’ releases, January saw the release of The Book Thief adaptation. Directed by Brian Percival, the orginal novel here undergoes a beautiful cinematic vision. The story follows a young girl, Liesel (Sophie Nélisse), subjected to the horrors of the Second World War and how she steals books ordered to be destroyed by Hitler in order to share them with others, not least the Jewish fugitive hidden in her basement by her adoptive parents, played delightfully by Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson. A truly beautiful story which will often break your heart if you have one.
Graced by possibly the best male actor working today, Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler is the story of one man, Lou Bloom, and his sociopathical approach to success. When witnessing an accident and the subsequent furore around the attempts to be first at the scene to film the aftermath, Lou decides that his new business venture will be in that very line of edge-of-the-seat journalism. An absolutely outstanding performance from Gyllenhaal makes every scene unmissable and the viewer is riveted throughout by a simple and effective story and a hitherto unmatched character study.
5. Gone Girl (Dir, David Fincher)
From the greatest actor working today, to possibly the greatest young actress. Having been a fan of Rosamund Pike for years, it comes as no surprise to me that she is finally seeing her time in the spotlight, deserved and inevitable as it really is. David Fincher is truly back on form with this story of a wife that goes missing from her home and the fallout from her disappearance that her husband (Ben Affleck) has to deal with, with many suggesting him as guilty of the crime of her murder. As much a damning indictment on how the media behaves as the previous movie on this list, Fincher’s work is less opportunistic and slightly more measured, with a great sense of dread throughout, and delivering a very satisfying denoument. Fascinating and impossible to ignore, Amy (Pike) is absolutely nailed on for awards everywhere in the next few months in what was probably the single best performance by a female lead this year.
4. Calvary (Dir, John Michael McDonagh)
As an advocate of practically everything the McDonagh Brothers have done professionally over the years, there is a certain amount of personal expectation that comes with any new release from either of them, particularly when involving long-time collaborator and eminent performer with few equals, Brendan Gleeson. Here, Gleeson plays a priest that is threatened with murder in seven days time during a confession. The film takes up the story of the priests’ efforts to discover who the potential killer is and how he prepares himself for what may or may not be his final days. Darkly comic, the writing is brilliant, unique and colourful, much like the tone and feel of the film and the performances throughout. With a budget only a fraction of some of those lower on this list, McDonagh proves, yet again, what a talent he is in both direction and the delivery of his own words. Irreverent and satirical at times, this is McDonagh and Gleeson on excellent form.
3. Under The Skin (Dir, Jonathan Glazer)
“Masterpiece” is a term that is bandied around all too easily, particularly by the likes of us, critics and reviewers that sometimes struggle for a definition of something that defies our ability to describe the feeling that it invokes in the person watching it, yet as we enter the top three films of the year, it is quite fair to call ll of the next few films just that and Glazers’ Under The Skin is no exception. To pick an order for the three films featured at the top of this list is practically impossible as each of them is utterly outstanding in their own right and for their ability to envelop, entrance and transport the viewer to a different time and place, the essence of any great film. With Under The Skin, whilst understated and often muted, the script is flawless and used to as good effect as anything on this list. The performances, likewise, are minimal, for good reason. Take nothing away from Glazer here, this is definitely and defiantly his film, his vision with his players being just the people they represent, willing participants, helpless in the thrall. Mesmerising, addictive viewing that requires, or even demands, further chances to go deeper.
2. Locke (Dir, Steven Knight)
From a performance perspective, Tom Hardy puts on simply the best acting display of the year, permanently on screen for the entire duration of the film. Ivan Locke (Hardy) is taking a trip to somewhere that will become evident through the course of his journey, via conversations on his phone from the drivers seat of his car with the disembodied voices of his family, colleagues and peers. Locke is a unqiue approach to film-making by writer turned director Steven Knight and it is clear to see that despite his new found talent for direction, the script is what makes the film so compelling and engaging. As a viewer with an open mind, this is just about as close to perfect as its possible to get and given the proximity of the camera work and the solo performance from Hardy himself, this could have gone horribly wrong. Thankfully, this was never in doubt, given Knight’s pedigree and Hardy’s talent. This was always going to be a formidable piece of work, even prior to completion, but what was eventually achieved was a dazzling, breathtaking display of originality, creativity and performance that I struggle to imagine could be bettered by many. From a purely performance perspective, this has no equal this year.
1. Enemy (Denis Villeneuve)
The second collaboration between Director Villeneuve and star Jake Gyllenhaal in 2013, after Prisoners. This gets a UK release (finally) on January 2nd, after sitting for months awaiting distribution. Some of us were lucky enough to get to see this much earlier this year, however, and we lucky for the fact, given that as a cinematic vision, there is little to match it. Villeneuve’s direction is succinct, subtle and definite, showing the audience only whats he wants them to see, with an idea brought to life from Javier Gullón‘s spell-binding novel about a man who, when renting a DVD from his local shop on the recommendation of a work colleague, sees himself playing a part in the film, throwing up a myriad of questions about identity and purpose. Gyllenhaal’s performance, much like Nightcrawler, confirms his pedigree as possibly the most effective, versatile actor working in Hollywood today when involved with an understanding director whom he respects and vice versa. Simply, Enemy is the best example we currently have this year of the complete package. Rangy, roaming cinematography, delicate direction, deft scripting and a tour de force of performance. Whilst the race to the top three was easy to choose, Under The Skin, Locke and Enemy will and have created debate and argument between genuine movie lovers and will do for some time to come. All three of these rightully claim top spot, but I chose Enemy as it feel the most rounded in all areas, even if the payoff at its conclusion is the least satisfying. Knowing that was intentional, however, made that a moot point.
Honourable mentions for those that made the twenty-five movie shortlist also included (in no particular order);
The Theory of Everything, Men Women & Children, The Skeleton Twins, The Imitation Game, St Vincent, Begin Again, John Wick, The Babadook, This Is Where I Leave You, What We Did On Our Holiday, The Fault In Our Stars, Edge Of Tomorrow, 22 Jump Street, The Young & Prodigious TS Spivet, At Middleton.
So that’s it for another year. Hope you all enjoyed the quick dash down memory lane, and I hope some of your favourites are in there too. 2014 was a great year for movies and next year promises to be just as great (fingers crossed)